How to album | Studio recording with Max Reve
Whenever I have heard my recorded voice played back to me, my first thought has been – “I sound awkward, I sound strange. I wonder who would want to listen to me. Even I have trouble appreciating the sound of my own voice.”
That was the inner critic, my self-doubt speaking out loud. It has been replaced since then by another voice that coaxed me with the words, “Go for it, what’s the worst that can happen? We will all die eventually and none of this matters.”
That’s how I found myself reaching out to Peak Studios DE to record, mix and master my album. That’s how I got in touch with Chris Jones and Max Reve.
I was brimming with questions for Max, who helped me record vocals at his studio in Berlin on Frank Zappa Strasse near the Poelchaustrasse S-bahn station in August this year.
“Max, can I get hot water for tea or coffee in the studio?”
“Max, how far is the nearest place to get something to eat?”
“Max, what kind of food do you like to eat?”
My questions weren’t about what equipment he was using or about the recording techniques and processes. I was concerned about managing my energy and getting enough to eat and drink on time so that I could lay down the vocals in the best way possible. I had one opportunity to do this and of course, I wasn’t going to throw away my shot.
Two months before I showed up at the studio, I spent thirty minutes each evening at home doing two things.
The first was practicing scales for ten minutes. Anyone within earshot of my home would’ve found themselves listening to “Mummy made me mash my M&Ms” being sung over and over along with other sorts of sounds for a vocal warm up.
For twenty minutes after that, I practiced at least three songs with the backing tracks Vlad had provided. Practice helped me know where I should breathe and pause, so I didn’t run out of breath.
If you find yourself out of breath when you sing, remember to focus and be intentional about when you inhale. The exhale will take care of itself when you are singing. You’ve got this!
Vlad sent over the backing tracks that Max had prepared in project files and we were all set to record when I got to Berlin.
Side note: Berlin, ich liebe Dich. It is a city that knows a thing or two about being reborn.
Over four days, I packed breakfast from near where I was staying in Berlin and took the S-bahn and got to the studio. Max had coffee and tea ready.
It wasn’t a party when we recorded. It was dutiful, disciplined and diligent hard work. Song after song, line after line being recorded until it felt just right. Sometimes, Max would ask me to repeat the lines. Sometimes, I’d listen to what he played back and want to do them again because I wasn’t feeling it.
Four months later as I am writing this, I know there are certain things I could’ve done to enhance my vocals. I will take what I have learnt and apply it to my subsequent albums. Yes, there will be more.
The first track took the most time because we were warming up. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard it played back in full later, because it didn’t sound too bad.
Before I began recording, I was reminded of a conversation between MC Sher and Murad from the movie Gully Boy. When Murad is in the studio for the first ever time, MC Sher tells him to spit bars into the mic, tilt his head to the side to inhale / exhale and then continue rapping. Murad also uses the outstretched space between his thumb and his little finger to maintain distance from the mic. Not too close, not too far.
I did the same thing as I began recording my first number.
Day 1 of recording went better than expected. It made me complacent about Day 2. I took it lightly and as a result, I didn’t feel good about how I sounded. For the next two days, I adjusted my exercise, meditation, sleep and food and drink intake to get into the right mindset and the right voice.
I will spare you the details and instead use the rest of this space to appreciate Max.
Max was thorough and diligent. He was fully tuned into each line, sometimes asking me to repeat sections and then comparing two versions to pick the one that felt better. He coaxed me to repeat lines with a little more volume, or with higher energy and intensity or to breathe and relax when I was struggling to get some lines correct.
In the track, “Yearning Earning Learning”, there is a section that goes:
“Yes, I confess I set myself lofty goals,
A semblance of success keeps me locked in its hold.”
I kept tripping up on “semblance of success” so much that I had to take a break. A cup of tea, some breathing and some encouragement from Max got me to push through and experience a semblance of success with my recording efforts.
The other part where Max helped me come out of my shell was when I sang for “Free in my mind”. I am insecure about my singing voice. I hope to make progress there for future albums.
On the final day of recording, Max helped me by asking me to sing different versions of “free in my mind”. The more I did that, the more my confidence grew and I found myself feeling comfortable singing the chorus. The initial singing parts with the shaky voice have been discarded, and the ones you hear are because Max nudged me.
Max and I matched up well on our ability to be serious and timely to get work done, and to occasionally decompress and just chat while we regrouped for the next bit of recording.
Max Reve, thank you. I am grateful for your expertise, for your encouragement and your diligence in helping me get a good vocal sound for my first album. Without you, this album wouldn’t exist.
If you want to record at Peak Studios DE, get in touch with me at conversation at thoughtbrownie dot com and I will pass on your info to their CEO, Chris Jones. e